Our Wedding Video

Punita RiceLife

Our Wedding video (Mackler Studios)

My husband and I just celebrated our first wedding anniversary — which is also our sixth regular-anniversary!. I wanted to share our wedding video (it’s listed as Punita and David Wedding on youtube). Here it is, if you’d like to see…

And here are a few photos from our wedding…

Photos from our wedding - Punita and David Wedding - Photography & Videography by Mackler

Photos from our wedding – Punita and David – Photography & Videography by Mackler

Our wedding Photography & Videography was by the amazing Mackler Studios.

If you’re married, how did you celebrate your first wedding anniversary?

Why Study Philosophy

Punita RiceTeaching

A personal essay on the value of Teaching Philosophical Thinking Skills in “the Classroom of the Future,” on Medium.com

I can pinpoint the “aha!” moments from most of the classes I’ve taken — the moment in English when I decided I was definitely pro-oxford comma; the moment in Social Psychology when I suddenly understood the concept of cognitive dissonance.

But when I reflect on the Philosophy classes I took in college, I can’t pinpoint any aha! moment of learning — instead, I remember the whole experience of taking those classes as this giant turning point ability to think (an entire semester devoted to asking if free will exists?!).

Yes philosophy has the really weird, cerebral stuff (and people), but the classes also really changed the way I think about the world. In other classes, I spent a lot of time memorizing facts and even theories. But in the Philosophy classes, I was developing my ability to analyze and dissect information… my ability to think. Teachers have to try to teach students to think by getting them to do what you get to to do in philosophy classes: question claims, construct arguments, analyze documents and stories with skepticism, and learn how to take a concept and apply it creatively to reality.

The nature of philosophy studies lends itself well to the nature of teaching students to think for themselves, to question ideas, and to learn more effectively. Using philosophy in the classroom is amazing, because the kind of thinking and reasoning philosophy coursework fosters allows students not just to learn particular content, but to learn different approaches to processing and making sense of that content. The same skills that can make students great budding philosophers also make them great learners of all content.

Students in Social Studies courses examine primary and secondary sources — ideally, they spend a lot of time focusing on whether there are multiple “versions of the truth” — and spend time really soaking up what multiple perspectives on history mean. We examine how reliable history really is (can a primary source account ever be 100% reliable?) and practice using our analytic skills, and walk away with a more nuanced understanding of how the world works. That’s very philosophy-ish.

To take it a step further, this also teaches students how to formulate and defend original ideas — and as a result, get closer to becoming independent thinkers.

The focus in the Social Studies curriculum is not just on hard facts, but on historical thinking skills — how to think (in this case, about our content). That means we encourage skepticism.

Using philosophy and its style of thinking into instruction can also help develop cross-curricular connections. As we move forward, and move toward teaching in a cross-curricular format, we want to improve student ability to make connections across distinct disciplines and content areas. Using philosophy in the classroom helps students to do this.

So how does this fit into the classroom of The Future?

The technologies we’re very close to developing are going to impact education. Not accounting for any major wildcards, technology is on a trajectory that is headed toward greater integration in our day-to-day lives (not to mention in our classrooms).

By the way — for the rest of this post, you’ll have to humor me and engage in a bit of a thought experiment with me, in which the singularity is coming, and education will be radically different than it is now.

The technological singularity (“the singularity”) is a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilization, and perhaps human nature. It is a moment we can’t see past: since the capabilities of such an intelligence could be hard for an ordinary human to comprehend, the singularity is often seen as an occurrence (akin to a gravitational singularity) beyond which the future course of human history is unpredictable or even unfathomable.

If the singularity is near (even if Moore’s law is wrong), everything, including education, is going to change, and when that happens, teachers will have a different (yet familiar), task in the future. In the coming decades, being a student (or a person, for that matter) may be a radically different thing than it is today: instead of just being dependent on technology, we will be committed to it, will respect it, will be in awe of it, will be equal to it, will be unable to distinguish it from humans, and might even be integrated or merged with it.

Maybe kids will even be able to plug in (or wirelessly?) download information to their minds.Even by modest estimation, the future of technology should increase our access to knowledge and information, and its availability. So what happens to teachers after the singularity?

Everything may change, which means more than just the role of teachers — what about schools? Right now, fully-online K-12 learning programs are controversial at best. Even the best fully online higher education programs have challenges, but at least these are typically populated with self-motivated and organized adults, and are not expected to provide those extra things that elementary and secondary education programs are expected to provide: socioemotional learning and growth, character education, civic education, etc. In some ways, online higher ed is still in its infancy (as is the internet, in general, if you think about it), while fully online K-12 programs are not yet able to offer the authentic learning that the traditional education structure offers, that might change.

Some day soon, as children become more immersed in evolving technologies, as virtual reality computing becomes more advanced, as information becomes even more readily available, as our use of technology as a learning and thinking aid evolves, as our social acceptance of technological enhancements evolve, and as our general relationships with technology as a whole evolves, immersive online K12 schooling may be able to provide a comprehensive and valuable experience.

When that happens, how will greater access to information impact tests? How will studying change? Will there be any impact on thinking and learning? Motivation? The role of teachers? Will we even need education as we know it?
I don’t think we need to worry that the need for teachers will disappear (I think this fear, along with the anxiety about robots taking our jobs, might be the wrong approach, especially in education). Instead, I think the future of education lies in a subtle shift in the role of educators.

“The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction — how to teach himself.”

– Herbert Gerjuoy

Tasks of Teachers in The Future:

  • Teaching students to form Qualitative Hierarchies — Educators of the future will teach students how to classify/categorize information and ideas.
  • Teaching students to Evaluate Value — Educators of the future will teach students how to assess the importance, relevance, and qualitative value of evidence and information.
  • Teaching students to re-assess Categories and Classifications — Future teachers will teach students how to re-think pre-existing ideas, and re-form mental categories.
  • Teaching students to switch between Abstract Thinking and Concrete Thinking — Future teachers will teach students how to transition between abstract, theory and idea based thinking, and concrete examples and evidence, repeatedly and naturally, thus strengthening their ability to think independently.
  • Teaching students New Approaches — Educators of tomorrow will teach students how to look at problems with fresh perspectives, and offer applicable strategies to extend the reach of their analytical abilities.
  • Teaching students to Self-Teach — Educators of tomorrow will give students the tools, skills, and habits to teach themselves effectively, and to apply their learning and seek more.
  • What we teach is usually not important because of the hard subject matter itself (don’t we as a society regularly go back and rewrite textbooks?). Instead, what we teach is important because of the skills we impart to students, like learning, unlearning, re-learning, and thinking independently.

These are things we can, and should, already be doing. If we have students study philosophy, then they will already be developing these skills, and when technology revolutionizes learning entirely, teachers won’t have too huge of a transition to make.

Philosophy, and the kind of thinking and reasoning it fosters and demands, fits in the classroom because it enables teachers not just to teach content, but actual thinking skills — and to teach different approaches to processing and actually making sense of that content.

“Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.”

– Herbert Gerjuoy

P.S. – A lesson plan about the singularity.

Why We Study History

Punita RiceMiscellaneous

Reflections on History Paper

Early in the school year, my students usually ask the standard when are we ever going to use this? in class. I don’t hate the question; I didn’t really get history growing up either. The history teachers I had growing up didn’t really teach history in a way that brought it alive for me. I remember spending a lot of time aimlessly reading a textbook, memorizing names of states, and drawing in class while the teacher wrote names of dead presidents on the board. So, yeah, not going to use most of that. Facts, names, and figures were dry.

But the stories from history aren’t dry. They’re the thing that makes history exciting. History came alive for me when my dad told me bedtime stories about the Sikhs that fought against Aurangzeb’s bloody crusade in India, or later, how Hari Singh Nalwa and the Sikh empire expanded and eventually fought the East India Trading Company. It was the stories that hooked me. To me, this stuff was not “history.” This was the stuff of action movies and war games. These were the stories that made me love the Shadow series, and action hero movies, and World of Warcraft. It wasn’t until college that I finally made the connection (while reading Shadow of the Hegemon) that these stories were history.

So when I decided to become a teacher, I decided I was going to teach with a focus on the stories, the themes, and the feelings — because that’s what sticks. Not dates, not names of regions, and not just lists with the names of dead guys. Adventures and concepts. When history emphasizes these, suddenly, it becomes very exciting.

History is about Stories

More than any other reason, I teach history because I love stories. The entire Social Studies umbrella, history classes included, are essentially about the interwoven mess of human experiences: the stories of our people. I may be a somewhat nontraditional history teacher in that sense — I didn’t grow up with an unusual penchant for any particular era in history. Nor did I have an unusual amount of exposure to any one set of historical ideas. I grew up with the standard Maryland Social Studies curriculum, and a little bit of Indian and Sikh history at home. What brought history alive for me was Orson Scott Card’s military strategy fiction.

Now, I can’t help but see the individual stories of people rising and falling (and with them, their nations) as interconnected; the stories of political impact and tension feel relatable when thought about as the experiences of actual people.

It may also be because I was born on the opposite side of the world from where I live and teach now, and so I’ve heard two totally different histories. At home, I heard the stories and histories of my own people. Then, I moved to America, and in school, I learned an entirely new history — with its own stories and perspectives. And after becoming immersed and soaked in it, I realized there are an infinite number of stories about an infinite number of peoples and their experiences — and even an infinite number of versions of those stories to be told and heard. I love hearing these stories, and telling them. They inspired me, and they inspire other students too.

History Teaches Skills

Many of the same reasons I teach history relate to why students need to learn about history and social studies: to make sense of the world around them. History is taught in almost the same way that Philosophy is taught: with a focus on questioning and on developing skills.

Specifically, they need to develop Historical Thinking Skills to develop a framework for thinking, which means students need to be able to:

  • Know the Importance of History – It isn’t enough to just know facts or about events; students need to understand the relevance, importance, and relationships between the stories of the past
  • Develop Historical Thinking Skills – Knowing the content only goes so far; the real value of history coursework is to teach students historical thinking skills, so they understand how to analyze and think about history and its lessons, and how to apply those same thinking skills universally
  • Practice Skepticism – Students must know how to appropriately question claims and even validity of sources — and to understand the importance of source (assess value)

In many ways, the study of history teaches students to become independent thinkers — and so, it is absolutely vital that we do it well.

5 Tips for Decreasing Word Count

Punita RiceAcademia

5 Tips for Decreasing Word Count

With some of my final papers for the summer term due in the next week, I figured this might be a good time to share some basic tips for decreasing word count. In the past, I’ve written papers, thought I was pretty much done, and then checked word count and realized I was 500 words over the limit.

Like so many others in the same position, I’ve found myself desperately googling “decreasing word count” to find tips for whittling down my writing, and for some reason, all of these articles I’d find would themselves be extremely wordy, and would all seem to offer the same information in scary lists of 50 or more time-consuming strategies for decreasing word count. Those 50+ tips can be boiled down to “5 Basics of Decreasing Word Count” — read the whole post here.

What Music Makes You Cry?

Punita RiceMiscellaneous

Entre Acero y Cristal - Aitor Renteria - What music makes you cry?

What music makes you cry? NPR shared a story a few years ago about why some songs make us cry. In the story, a professor of music psychology shares that music can, in fact, trigger strong emotional reactions (the full story delves into why and how, if you’d like to learn more). I can relate to this! There are definitely songs that make me have an emotional and physical reaction. If you can relate, maybe they’ll elicit a similar response from you? Here are a handful of songs that move me close to tears…

You Don’t Know What Love Is by Nina Simone (this song makes my heart hurt. The intro is so, so beautiful. And when Nina finishes saying “you don’t know/what love is” the first time, makes an inflection like it’s almost a question, and it sounds so lovely).

My Love by Sia (I love anything Sia, and the piano intro is also so great).

Destiny by Zero 7 (with vocals by Sia). A great line: And when I’m down, you breathe life over me

Twice by Little Dragon (Yukimi Nagano’s voice that sounds like an unexpectedly appealing combination of liquid and silk and sandpaper)

The Dumbing Down of Love by Frou Frou, which has this relevant lyric: Music is worthless unless it can/Make a complete stranger break down and cry

My Heart Still Beats For You by Anna Ternheim (and it feels like there’s a slow “heartbeat” that runs through the background of the song.)

Gole Hayahoo, an Iranian song with lovely lyrics (if you click-through that link, it includes the song as well as a translation.)

Beautiful by Karsh Kale (this song makes me think of college, perfect weather).

What music makes you cry?


P.S. – Scientific American also discussed why music makes us cry here. Also, what music do you listen to when you’re concentrating?

(Painting is “Entre Acero y Cristal” by Aitor Renteria, from here).

A Sikh Tragedy, an American Tragedy

Punita RiceCulture

A Sikh Tragedy, an American Tragedy

Before reading this post, please make sure you are familiar with the Shooting at the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Wisconson.

“For me, the mass shooting is not just about how to keep guns out of the hands of a murderous few. It’s also about my community’s sacrifice in the struggle to live as free and proud Americans

…this is not a Sikh tragedy but an American tragedy.”

– From Valarie Kaur, in Today, we are all American Sikhs

This morning, someone decided to say that Sikh men shouldn’t be surprised by the prejudice some of them face when stepping out in the morning — and to this, I had to say no. To that someone, and to any other person who would raise the notion that any person should expect to face prejudice because of what they believe, I have to say no, in America, they shouldn’t have to expect it.  Having an unshorn beard and wearing a turban are not fashion choices for which a few men should expect to face consequences — for most Sikhs, they are non-negotiable. It is a part of who they are.  So, no, a Sikh man, like any freedom loving American, should not have to expect it or anything less than equal and respectful treatment, because we as a nation are better than that.

A Sikh man (or woman or child) should never “expect” to be treated like a terrorist. This very statement, that a Sikh man should expect to be treated a particular, prejudiced way, is unnerving and implies, “follow your religion at your own risk” — I don’t believe that in this day and age, this mentality is something we should be perpetuating.

We are a nation that defends the right to follow one’s religion — not just allows it, but actively defends it. So to perpetuate the notion that a man who chooses to follow his should expect to be treated with violence is unacceptable. We should be aiming to end ignorance, NOT suggesting that Sikh men and women can exercise their religious freedom at their own risk, particularly in a country where exercising religious freedom is a fundamental RIGHT.

More about Sikhism

Sikhism is the 5th largest Organized Religion in the world, with approximately half a million followers living in the United States. Learn about the fundamental beliefs and central tenants of Sikhism by *clicking here.

*Wikipedia‘s overview of Sikhism is straightforward and helpful for those who are completely unfamiliar with the religion.

A Nation Supports Sikh Americans Together

Americans from all backgrounds have rallied together to show their Sikh brothers and sisters how supported they are. Without Fear or Waver (Navroop Mitter) observes the camaraderie of Americans after this tragedy, and revels in how Sikh Americans have had no cause or need for fear following this incident. The feeling in the nation is one that certainly makes clear how isolated the perception of the terrorist responsible for this tragedy is.

In contrast, the article “Why the Reaction is Difference when the Terrorist is White” by Conor Friedersdorf approaches America’s reaction from an admittedly more glass-half-empty perspective.  While less optimistic, it is an interesting and very provocative read (I highly recommend it — thanks again, Rasika).

The bottom line is, our nation’s well being and interests are best served when Americans of all creeds and walks of life band together and give support to one another, with no tolerance for anyone who threatens our tolerant way of being.

A final thought:

“…Let us get to know our Sikh sisters and brothers, as well as all of the ‘others’ in our neighborhoods so that we might grow stronger as one nation, and as one global community.”

The difference between Muslims and Sikhs… Misses the point by Paul Raushenbush (Thanks Jeet for link)


Repetition, and Soundboards

Punita RiceTeaching

Repetition, and Soundboards

Repetition in the classroom — or anywhere — is so powerful, right? I created a a “soundboard” activity based on the power of repetition. You can see how to use the activity (and the full rationale behind it) over at Punlearning. Click here for the whole thing.